I suppose short validation is better than none.
Leave it to comedy icon Harry Shearer to tell people, “Gittelman’s right, this is bullshit.” Shearer, best known as one-third of Spinal Tap and an alarming number of the voices on The Simpsons, has come out of the closet and said what, apparently, you’re not supposed to say anymore, which is: You know it’s called acting for a reason, right?
Those faithful to the blog know this was a point I raised when Mike Henry decided to stop voicing Cleveland on Family Guy and The Simpsons simultaneously announced they would no longer have white actors playing non-white characters. Non-white animated characters.
I mean, to be fair, the title characters aren’t even white, they are yellow.
On the plus side, Shearer states the obvious: “I have a very simple belief about acting. The job of the actor is to play someone who they are not.” This is about as smarmy as Shearer is in daily life; he has a reputation for being something of a douche, according to almost everyone he worked with at Saturday Night Live. Still, he is the man who uttered the now immortal words, “Smithers…release the hounds.” And that means something in my book.
This is a short post, a booster shot, just to remind everyone that the good fight is being won in the places where it means nothing, while nothing substantive happens in the space where change needs to take place. Winning the war on the fringes, the icing instead of the cake, will boomerang on us, just you wait. People who try and do the right thing for the right reason will back away slowly (I’m thinking Hank Azaria who went on a self-imposed spirit quest to decide if he wanted to play Apu on The Simpsons anymore, and decided no, he didn’t). And people who look to entertainment as a respite for the Seventh Seal we are all apparently living through in 2020 will begin to resent the movement, and the people behind it.
More walls. Higher walls.
There is a way to do this. If you want to see where maybe we should be applying ourselves, watch this week’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Let’s get truth and balance in our history books; let’s agree that we can be good without being perfect and that our goal should be to be better, not look better. One video clip shows a guy in Texas saying, “I just want my son to wake up in the morning knowing that the worst day here in the United States is better than the best day anywhere else.” Well, OK, that’s a little rednecky, but I understand what he’s saying and I even cop to wanting the same thing, basically.
The main difference is, I can come to a place where I acknowledge the horrible shit that has occurred and still feel good about the good stuff, still feel motivated to continue pushing the boulder up the hill. That’s the difference. When you paint history, let alone the present, as all-good or all-bad, you’re wrong. Paint it, instead, as history and live each day like you have the power to be the person you want to be in a world in which you want to live. Hey, some days you’re going to fall flat on your face. That’s OK too. It has to be.
When I started in my current job more than 15 years ago we did a hurry-up refresh of our product brochure so we would have it in time for an annual sales meeting. The whole thing was done in a matter of weeks, and the output was solid. When it was done and printing, or maybe printed and shipping, one of my team members came to me and said, “We have a problem. We forgot….”
We had forgotten to include two very small products that were not sold much or referred to much. There was other literature on them should sales folks need it, but they were so irrelevant compared to everything else they just stayed under the radar and we missed them.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
“What do you mean? We will fix it on the electronic version and catch it on the reprint,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, but what are we going to DO?”
I came to understand what she was asking was, “How are we going to defend ourselves from the shitstorm” that would rain down on us because of the omission. Because of our mistake.
So I said to her, “Listen to me. We’re going to make mistakes. Most of them will be small, some of them will be bigger. But I can tell you two things as long as I am working here. One is, we’re going to be careful and mindful enough so that we don’t make the same mistakes twice. And two is, we will not be defined by our mistakes. We will be defined by our successes. Mistakes are just the road we take on the way there.”
Now, I have to tell you this sounds a lot more profound coming off my fingertips and out of my memory than it felt at the time coming out of my mouth. I remember being kind of amused that my teammate was looking at me like I was speaking Klingon or something. That told me a lot about the environment that had predated me.
But profound or not, it’s been true for me since that time and it’s true for me today. Why is it so difficult to accept each other as human, hold ourselves accountable for the good we try to do as well as the moments we fall short. They are not two sides of the same coin, but equal parts of the same side of the tapestry we are creating here on earth.
We have clearly botched some things badly as a civilization. Fair. We have clearly done amazing things as well.
As near as I can tell, the only question worth asking is, what are we prepared to do tomorrow?